Sermon Pentecost 7 year B
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Have you ever been to a party that didn’t turn out well? Today’s gospel story has to win the prize for the “Worst Birthday Party Ever”. It starts out like a great party. The guests and the host are eating and drinking and enjoying the entertainment. Herod’s step daughter, Salome, is dancing and everyone thinks she is great.
Herod wants to reward her for entertaining the guests and making the party such a success. So he offers her whatever she wants. She runs to her mother and gets some really bad advice.
This soap opera tale needs some background. The Herod in this story is one of the sons of Herod the Great. Herod the Great is the one from the Christmas story. He is the one the Wise Men went to see when they were following the star looking for the newborn King. Herod the Great is the one who killed all the little boys under two years old just to make sure that this new king would not be a threat. Because of Herod the Great, the Holy Family became refugees in Egypt.
The Herod in today’s story is one of Herod the Great’s three remaining sons. His name is Herod Antipas. He is one of the lucky ones who survived. Herod the Great didn’t just kill all the little baby boys around Bethlehem, he murdered some of his own sons too. It is reported that Caesar in Rome even said it was safer to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.
The other surviving half brothers are Herod Philip and Herod Aristobulus. Aristobulus had a daughter named Herodias and she married Herod Philip. They had a daughter named Salome.
So Philip was married to his own niece Herodias. Herod Antipas, the Herod of our story, travels to Rome where he meets up with Herodias and Philip. Herodias runs off with her brother-in-law, Herod Antipas, who is also her uncle.
As far as Roman Law is concerned, this is all legal. But it certainly isn’t acceptable in the Jewish province of Galilee where John the Baptist is preaching repentance and return to God’s law.
Herodias is used to getting what she wants. She didn’t appreciate it when John called her and her husband sinners. She had her husband arrest John. But Herod didn’t have John killed when he arrested him. Herod knew in his heart that John was right. He even enjoyed John’s sermons.
Herod Antipas had some choices to make. He knew right from wrong. But he chose evil over good. To start with, he could have said, “No, I will not run off with my brother’s wife.”
Herod could have said, “No, John is a holy and righteous man. I will not have him arrested.”
Herod could have said, “No, I will not give you the head of John the Baptist. You have got to be kidding! How about some nice jewelry instead? More pretty scarves?”
But Herod did not say any of these things. He felt bad about it, but a promise is a promise. He couldn’t afford to lose face in front of his guests. He cared more about his own ambition and reputation and power than doing the right thing, even if it cost a good man’s life.
Sometimes it seems like evil wins. It is hard to hear any good news in this story.
What can we say when evil wins? Sometimes we wonder where God is and what God is doing. Sometimes we wonder about the existence of God at all. It is easy to see all the problems in the world. Wars, hunger, poverty, disease. It is easy to see all the times when evil wins. It is understandable that we ask, “Are you there, God?” “Do you care, God?”
To answer those questions, let’s go back to the Gospel of Mark. Jesus is obviously the main character of the story. Does he encounter challenges in his life? Are there times when evil seems to win?
From the beginning, there are conflicts. Herod the Great tried to kill him when he was born. The religious authorities were always plotting something. Then there is the arrest, the trial, the awful death on the cross. These seem like victories for the other side. But they are not the end of the story. Mark ends his gospel story with the resurrection.
But, back to our soap opera story today – the excesses of the rich and famous. Mark places it right in the middle of stories about the ministry of Jesus. Just before this story we hear of the success of the disciples who were sent out in pairs to spread the gospel and heal the sick. Just after this story we find the story of the feeding of the 5000.
Mark puts the story of the death of John the Baptist here to show us that no place in the world is outside of the reach of the ministry of Jesus, not even the palaces of the rich and powerful. Nothing in the world is beyond the power of the good news of Jesus Christ.
Sometimes we all wonder about God. Certainly there are times in this world when it seems like evil wins. There is horrible evil in the world. There are people who care more about their own power than whether they are hurting and killing others.
There are evil systems in the world too. We all participate, willingly, or not, in systems that promote war instead of peace, greed instead of feeding the hungry, pollution instead of care for the earth. And there is evil that comes from complete stupidity, like the stupidity of telling a dancing girl she can have whatever she wants.
But evil does not have the last word. The message of our faith is the message of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Herod does not win. Herodias does not win. Evil does not win. Death does not win. They are not the end of the story. God gets the last word. Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end.
At the end of the story, Jesus Christ reigns forever and ever. Amen.